These are some fragmentary notes on the US Presidential Election:
Now that the election is settled, at least we know where to focus our opprobrium. I guess we can start referring to him as Bush II (after giving some thought to George III, rejected as it would make inappropriate allusion to George I).
Meatpackers want the incoming Republican administration to throw out the Agriculture Department's new rules for punishing processors who exceed limits for salmonella and other microbes.
I don't doubt but that there are many regulations that should be rescinded or minimized, but I'd think that even the R's would be cautious when it comes to food poisoning.
I sent this letter to firstname.lastname@example.org:
I watched Al Gore's concession speech last night. Very sad, but it may well have been appropriate to cool things down a bit after the electoral outrage. Division, partisanship, outrage will all flare up soon enough, because the Republican platform makes that inevitable.
However, I am intrigued by Gore's comment about how the one thing he regrets about not being elected is that he won't be able to fight for the people. Think again. You don't have to be President, elected, or even campaigning to fight for people who are wronged by the system. Jesse Jackson is an example. Ralph Nader is another one. Neither have the right answers, but as long as you work within the framework of spin politics, neither do you.
Let's face it: people don't like you. You're not slick enough to get away with lying, and you're not modest enough to be accepted as one who tells the truth. You can't play that game, and you can't run again. You could, of course, cash in your chips and make a fortune plying government for rich clients -- that's what Bob Dole's doing. But if you do have any real desire to serve and fight, there is ever so much that you can do.
Email that I sent out to various friends:
A few comments on the elections. I tried to pay as little attention to them as possible, but with a news junkie in the house, this isn't always possible. I managed to avoid all but about 10 minutes of presidential debates -- a particularly dreary segment where Bush/Gore were polled on which wars of the last 20 years they'd do again. I don't recall that Gore's ever seen a war he didn't like. (I've heard it said that he didn't like Vietnam, but he went anyway -- what a guy!) Bush demurred on Haiti: not a real war, something about "nation building". Bush wants to save the military for real wars.
While I avoided TV like the plague it is, I did do a bit of homework: read Molly Ivins' book on Bush, and Alexander Cockburn's book on Gore. I also watched the numbers fairly closely, and having done almost as much political demography in my early days as Kevin Phillips, I have some comments on that.
These comments won't be in any particular order, but here goes:
The real winner of the election was Dan Quayle. As you will no doubt recall, Quayle's lustrous political career was based on a rich father who pulled strings for him, and was highlighted by two significant traits: he's dumb, and he's priggish. Whether he's dumber than Bush, or more priggish than Gore/Lieberman is a fine point that I won't delve into, but the confluence is striking.
Last week I picked up a used rap record, Redman's "Doc's Da Name 2000". Inadvertently, I got the "clean" version. Gee, thanks, Tipper. This is just about the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Approximately one word in six has to be doped -- sounds like the guy's got a serious speech impediment, not that you can't reconstruct what's missing. I've heard that the Gores are sorry about this, and that Frank Zappa's kids have forgiven them. I haven't.
I can't remember the last time a sitting vice-president failed to get a party nomination (did Alben Barkley run in 1952?), but Gore was uniquely ill-matched to run against Bush. Bush should have been vulnerable to two relentless barrages: 1) that his only qualification was his father; and 2) his access to obscene amounts of money. Anyone could have made these arguments, except Gore. Instead, Gore strained to claim that he's his own man. It's interesting that when Gore ran for Senate in 1984, he refused to let his father campaign for him. This time, he eschewed Clinton.
Someone on TV made a comment about how Americans are worried about Gore's character. The more accurate word is "personality", and the trait that people singled out was Gore's obsessive use of the first person: I did ..., I will do ..., I am ..., I believe ..., on and on. Another TV comment was about how Bush could survive defeat and still have a life, while losing would have destroyed Gore's entire life mission.
Presidents get re-elected because people hate change. Gore could have run on that -- he could've claimed part credit for everything in the last eight years except Monica Lewinsky -- but he didn't. He didn't even run on what he did do. Lucky for Gore many people figured this out anyway, but given the quality of politicking and the attention span of the media, many people don't seem to be able to figure out much of anything.
One thing that was singularly lacking was a politician who could explain how something works, and how decisions should be made; rather, each politician puts a stake in the ground and pulls like crazy. Take Social Security for instance: in the last 10 years of dire threats about baby boomers bankrupting the system, has anyone stopped to try to explain how Social Security works? What about the surplus? All we get are tax cuts and pork barrel schemes.
Let's take perscription drugs: Bush/Gore have two schemes, with different price tags and different levels of coverage, but nobody talks about why drugs cost so much they have to be covered. The simplest, cheapest, most effective solution would be to get rid of drug patents, subsidize research and testing, and turn the manufacturing into a competitive commodity business. (You could also throttle the advertising down, which would cut down on demand and unneeded prescriptions.)
The money is staggering: $150M for Bush, $100M for Gore. I expect that we will start to see some new push for campaign finance reform, if simply because it's pointless for big business, who foots most of the bill, to lay out this kind of money for two guys with the same platforms (at least regarding big business).
I'm not sure what the final vote turnout totals were, but it looks like voter turnout was significantly up. What is clear is that Gore ran better than the final polls, and that this was largely because his campaign put a big effort into core voter turnout -- even though his PR pretty much ignored core Democrats. This also suggests that big turnouts favor Democrats.
There seem to be three main pools of voters. There's the Christian jihad, who along with the gun crowd (both military and civilian) form the popular base of party R. There are the people who are scared shitless of the first group, who necessarily are stuck with party D. And there's the mass in-between, who don't have a clue what the commotion is about. The campaign is for this third group, and it's much too long, and much too dumb. (Why do we put ourselves through 12 months of campaigning when it's all about the people who won't make up their minds until the end?)
The missing group is the group that's trying to do something constructive on the left. Thus far, the Greens' anti-corporate message doesn't qualify. (I think I know the answer, but that's another tome.)
There's another way to divide the country, which is according to regional economic models. The northeast and west coast are high tech/service/trade centers; the upper midwest is manufacturing (the bosses are pro-trade, the workers not); the south and west are low wage, agriculture and extraction industries. The Clinton boom heavily favored the high tech/trade centers, which are also better educated and higher wage, and that is exactly where Gore did best. Gore carried 18 of the top 28 median income states (NY, which is a mixed bag of very rich and very not, was #28); Bush carried 20 of the bottom 22 (counting FL; Gore carried ME and NM, barely). This is a big shift: as far back as William Jennings Bryan the Democrats have made hay of the rural poor. This year they couldn't even carry West Virginia (unlike Dukakis, even).
We know that men are much more likely to vote R than women; from the spread above one is tempted to also draw the conclusion that the dumb and ignorant also lean toward R. (QED, do I hear?) This may even be necessary: so many R programs (e.g., killing the inheritance tax; tort reform) benefit such a tiny minority of the public that party R has to depend on indifference to get past the voters. (Of course, party D, in its favoritism to Wall Street and Silicon Valley, is trending this way too.)
I have another theory about why Gore lost West Virginia (and less clearly, the whole KY/TN/AR/MO belt that Clinton carried, and that should've been Gore's demographic, except that Gore really grew up in DC). "Earth in the Balance" -- specifically, fossil fuels. Gore actually has a pretty crummy record on the environment, but he is perceived as an activist on the global warming issue. WV lives and breathes (and all too often dies) coal. The WV/KY border has the filthiest oil refinery I've ever seen (and I grew up near OK, and lived in NJ). WV and AR are the poorest states in the USA -- aside from the monorail in Morgantown, nobody goes anywhere except by car, and they can afford it less than anyone else in the country. (Only folks who can afford to travel to Europe realize how cheap gas is in the US.) Pass a BTU tax and stop strip mining (both of which would make a lot of sense in DC and NYC), and WV shrivels up and dies. (Note that if Gore had carried WV, FL wouldn't count.)
I got a big piece of this analysis from thinking about a comment from an AR relative, who said she voted for Bush because she thought that Bush would keep gas prices lower, and that mattered a lot. This was counterintuitive to me: the US oil industry (Bush's home turf) lives and dies on gas prices, and the higher the better. One could even argue that Bush pere conspired with the Saudis to keep Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq in order to keep Iraq's oil off the market, to keep Iraq from depressing the market. Of course, when you look at Europe (or even California), you quickly realize that tax policy that's designed to ween gas consumption can be a big hit on people who have no alternatives.
Of course, gun control also really hurt Gore in WV, KY, TN, AR, and MO. This was a case where Gore read the polls right, but didn't factor the electoral college in.
I've always wondered who really calls the shots in party R? It has always been clear that party R actively recruits promising young lawyers (Nixon, Dole) and celebrities (astronauts, ball players, McCain, Reagan). The last two nominees (Dole, Bush) seemed to be annointed before the primaries, which they bungled at first before the money took over (in SC, coincidentally?). In this election, they certainly looked like a very finely oiled machine. Gore had to hustle for his money; it just magically rolled out like a red carpet beneath Bush's feet.
I also wonder what Pat Buchanan's payoff will be. Perot basically stole a big chunk of the center that the R's envied but couldn't quite grasp. Bush got Perot's endorsement, which kept him out of the fray. But rather than risk a real centrist alternative (who could have had a lot of fun with Gore/Bush), Buchanan split the Reform party, then vanished. Were it not for his big Jewish vote in Palm Beach, one would have heard nary a breath about Buchanan all election night. (On the other hand, the Gore/Nader thing was intense news.)
Another news leak I wonder about is the announcement that Gore was pulling his Ohio adds, conceding the state to Bush. Who broke that, and why?
Ivins notes that when Ann Richards was governor of Texas, party R ran a relentless crusade attacking her at every turn, for the entire duration of her term. When Bush won, party D gave him a free ride. Party R seems to be pretty well geared for that sort of attack -- certainly they've used Clinton for plenty of target practice. Assuming Bush gets inaugurated, it seems very unlikely that the D's will be so condescending. I've heard folks say that they like Bush because they'd like to see an end to the partisan bickering. They ain't seen nothing yet. And I expect this will push the D's hard to the left, since they won't have to cover Gore's ass any more.
In particular, the D's need to track down every R dollar, and show what it's buying.
I won't say anything about the recount, other than that I've been in favor of giving Florida back to Castro for a long time now. I was, however, deeply offended by a demonstration (signs "Stop the Recount" and "Honk for Bush") at Central and Rock (deep in the Republican corner of Wichita).
I expect that whoever pockets this election ("wins" seems such a malaproprism) will pay heavily in 2002, but especially the R's, who have worked up so much hostility to government in general and Clinton in particular. The scandals of the Reagan- Bush years were never properly noted. (I used to say that the only boom industry in America is fraud -- even before the S&L crisis broke.) Now I expect the R's to steal everything that isn't firmly nailed down. Both parties face the prospect that the stock market has nowhere to go but down, and that's the end of the boom -- or more precisely, the point where you realize that most of the money has gone into someone else's pocket, and that both parties are responsible for this. Then there is the waning empire: both Bush and Gore err on the side of trigger-happy, but the only core competency that the US military has any more is blowing things up at a distance -- not terribly useful. The US is the real rogue nation these days, which isn't winning us any friends. And friends will matter more and more, given that we're also the world's most conspicuous consumer, polluter, and debtor. The political reality is that neither Bush nor Gore can change this: the "winner" gets to go down with the ship. (Maybe this is a bit pessimistic, but sooner or later one does have to pay the piper.)
There's talk now about abolishing the electoral college, to avoid future recurrences of elections like this. A better approach would be to abolish inheritance, and to nationalize Harvard and Yale and make them strictly merit-based (no tuition, no favors).